Wednesday, July 10, 2013

De Waag

The painting: The Weigh House and Crane on the Spaarne in Haarlem, circa 1670 by Gerrit Adriaansz Berckheyde.

In the seventeenth century the River Spaarne was the most important transportation route for goods coming into Haarlem. The Weigh House was strategically located in central Haarlem where the Spaarne River joints the Beek, a small canal that was used to carry fresh water from the dunes to supply the brewers of the city. In the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries the city was known for its many beer breweries.

Incoming goods where weighed and taxed and the wooden crane was used for the next four hundred years for loading heavy cargo to and from vessels. The Bakenesse tower in the background on the left still dominates Haarlem's skyline.

The Weigh House was designed by Lieven de Key around 1597 and built from stone imported from Namur, which is now Belgium. It is the only building in Haarlem in this style and it was designed to function as a landmark and a building of authority. The weigh master was the judge and he ensured that correct taxes were levied on shiploads of grain and other goods entering Haarlem. Inside the building the large cast iron balance can still be seen.

In the sixteenth and seventeen centuries Haarlem became known as a mecca for Dutch painters. Artist such as Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael and Adriaen van Ostade had their studios here. The city also became a refuge for the Huguenots. Many of those who arrived were textile merchants, weavers, potters, ceramicists, lace makers and glass blowers. Haarlem welcomed them, they assimilated, flourished and stayed.

In 1821 the upper floor of the Waag was rented to the artist club KZOD, Kunts Zijn Ons Doel, an inspiring  group of local artist, sculptors, engravers, graphic designers and illustrators. Leen Spierenburg, the illustrator from Panorama Magazine was part of this group. The room is still used for this function, though fewer classes are held and the room is often used for exhibitions of a more modern art.

Today we are alongside on the Spaarne, on the spot next to the wooden crane. The crane no longer resides there; it was demolished after four centuries, but the rest of this picture remains the same.

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